We sometimes invite melancholy into our lives and it’s totally fine
You’ve had a long stressful day. You’ve arrived home and put on your pajamas right away. You’re just fed up with everything so you lay down and quite automatically turn on the music in your bedroom.
“Just want this day to finish so I can start fresh tomorrow”, you think to yourself.
In the background, an endless stream of songs between nostalgia, melancholy, and pure calmness, fills the cold space of your apartment.
You faintly smile to yourself.
“That’s what I was looking for”, you suddenly realize.
You stare into the ceiling, lost in your thoughts, trying to forget the outer world even exists.
This is the time you need for yourself.
Your mind wandering freely.
All this world for you to explore.
Alone, until you fade into darkness. You’re finally at peace and dreams soothe you.
Everything is alright.
Looking for melancholy
This might be a story everyone has experienced at least once in their lives. In these types of situations, where you’re feeling downhearted you might look for sad music to accompany you.
Isn’t it strange that we want more sadness in times of despair and pain?
There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s not like you want to punish yourself and dive deeper into a state of suffering. And it’s certainly not a hidden pleasure like you’re some kind of masochist.
You’re perfectly fine and now you’ll see why.
#1 We like music we’ve heard before
Several studies have shown that when we are exposed to a new and neutral stimulus we’ll tend to like it more after each interaction with it.
In the case of music, with every new listening, we get more familiar with the song and we enjoy it more. This feeling intensifies with tunes that are more complex and this tends to happen with nostalgic music.
The melodic and harmonic richness adds layers to our listening experience and thus, our liking to it.
It seems that when we encounter a stimulus we’ve already seen or heard before, we feel more in control of the situation because we know what to expect from it.
On the other hand, when we are exposed to something unfamiliar we take more time to process it which in turn makes us feel more intimidated. It can feel like a threat. We experience that we’re not in control of the situation and thus, we’ll likely avoid it.
If we usually listen to sad songs, these will feel more friendly and close to us than other types of tunes. And so, we’ll continue to listen to them fondly over and over again.
# 2 We are more inclined to like songs we listen to as background music
There’s an intriguing effect at play here. It’s not just that we are exposed to certain melodies, but it’s also important to know how we’re experiencing them.
We’ll either tend to focus on a song or let it play in the back of our minds.
When we pay attention to the music, we’re more likely to be fed up with it rather quickly. If we’re not into the song, our liking will quickly fade after a couple of repetitions.
Remember having a “please not this song again” moment?
That’s because the tune engraved into our memory as an unpleasant experience after listening to it attentively.
On the other hand, when we listen to a song incidentally, our fondness for it will increase after a couple of repetitions. With each new exposure, the tune gets more enjoyable as we see from the chart above.
Weird considering we’ve barely listened to it, don’t you think?
Now, here’s another unexpected finding from this same study. We are more likely to enjoy sad music if we listen to it as background music than when we listen to it attentively.
This might explain why we enjoy putting on sad playlists while we do other things.
We like having melancholic music around, just not as the sole thing happening to us at a given time.
# 3 You’re more likely to listen to a certain kind of music because of who you are
Your musical preferences are linked to your personality traits.
If you want to learn about someone, pay attention to the music they listen to. This will tell you what kind of person they are. Or you can do it inversely. Look at their personality traits and you’ll know what type of music they listen to (once you know the music-personality links of course).
That’s what a study found after matching what people listened to and how they behaved. These authors grouped people into 5 categories and saw which traits corresponded to certain musical features.
Now, there’s a certain personality group that’s more likely to listen to sad music.
Take a couple of seconds and guess what genres would those people more likely listen to.
Classical music? Pop songs? Soundtracks?
See if you can guess from the following description:
These are people that are very energetic, intense, and rebellious. They’re open to new and unusual experiences and they’re less driven by success than other personality groups. They’re creative and more imaginative which makes them less down to earth.
They see themselves as complex and more or less aggressive. They’re in touch with their feelings and like to experience tangled emotions. They especially engage with sad and angry songs. They prefer listening to fast tempo music, comprised of electric instruments with heavy distortions. Their songs are usually loud, percussive, and carrying a heavy bass sound.
This group is called Intense & Rebellious and their preferred genres are:
Rock, Heavy Metal, Punk, Pop-rock, Grunge, and Alternative music.
Is there someone you know that could fit into this description and listen to these musical styles?
Other groups like to listen to music embedded with negative emotions, such as the Reflexive & Complex group (with genres like classical, jazz, or blues) and the Energetic & Rhythmic group (with genres like hip hop, soul, and funk). However, these other groups tend to listen to positive and negative emotional music equally, while the Intense & Rebellious prefers the latter.
If you’d like to learn more about the relationship between personality traits and musical preferences, I encourage you to read my ebook on this topic. You can find out that not only do we have these 5 groups but also see how they evolve throughout our lives and how our gender also influences the music we listened to.
#4 Sad music fulfills a psychological need in our lives that other types of music are unable to
What do people say when they talk to others about listening to sad music when they’re unhappy?
A study collected the main reasons behind people’s need for this type of music and it found some interesting results.
One reason is that people put sad music to help them connect with their inner being or with others, usually their loved ones:
- They want to experience their emotions and not run away from them. Usually, sad music is of a slower tempo so it’s easier to focus our mind on ourselves and explore our feeling attentively. They feel a link between this type of music and their current affective situation.
Some people even say they use this type of music to calm themselves and think more clearly. For them, it’s a way to connect with their rational minds.
- Listening to nostalgic songs can help people feel more close to their family and friends. Do you have a specific melody that reminds you of someone you might want to feel close to? That’s exactly it! For instance, a male singer might remind a wife of her husband who’s away on a business trip. So when she hears this male voice, she can fantasize he’s missing her too.
Downhearted music can also trigger certain memories that people would want to relieve. For instance, a person missing a deceased friend, with a fondness for a certain jazz song, can feel good while listening to it because he knows how much it meant to his friend.
Think of these tunes as songs that trigger precious moments from people’s past. Who doesn’t want to remember them?
And lastly, a person could like sad songs just for the aesthetic pleasure of it. He/she feels it’s a lovely and colorful song.
As simple as that.
It might be because of the music or the lyrics, but either way, it’s pleasing to listen to, just for the sake of it.
No “strings attached”.
If you listen to sad songs when you’re sad, there’s nothing wrong with you.
Human beings are attracted to music, and this includes both happy and sad songs (and all the vast array of songs in between!).
There are at least 4 reasons you might prefer listening to downhearted songs in your moments of nostalgia:
- Because it’s the music we’ve heard before: and we like what feels familiar to us.
- Because we like to have it as background music while we focus on other things: and our listening experience is incidental.
- Because it resonates with who we are: and certain musical preferences are closely linked to our personality traits.
- Because our psyche needs it: and this enables us to experience something in ourselves or feel a deeper connection with our loved ones.
So next time you start listening to a sorrowful playlist, embrace it with all your heart and dive into the experience without any guilt whatsoever.
Sad music is part of any being’s experience of life 😉
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